The father and uncle of murdered toddler James Bulger have lost a High Court bid to have information about killer Jon Venables made public.
A worldwide order made in 2001 has allowed Venables to live under a cloak of anonymity since his release from a life sentence for the kidnap, torture and murder of the two-year-old in February 1993.
Lawyers for Ralph and Jimmy Bulger had argued certain details about the killer and his life are “common knowledge” and easily accessible online.
They had asked the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, to consider varying the order so that it does not cover this information.
But, in a ruling on Monday, the judge refused to change the terms of the order in the way requested by the Bulgers.
Sir Andrew said: “My decision is in no way a reflection on the applicants themselves, for whom there is a profoundest sympathy.
“The reality is that the case for varying the injunction has simply not been made.”
The judge said the injunction was designed to protect Venables from “being put to death”.
He added: “As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss held, (Venables) is ‘uniquely notorious’ and there is a strong possibility, if not a probability, that if his identity were known he would be pursued resulting in grave and possibly fatal consequences.
“This is, therefore, a wholly exceptional case and the evidence in 2019 is more than sufficient to sustain the conclusion that there continues to be a real risk of very substantial harm to (Venables).”
Sir Andrew added: “I accept that normally the public and Parliament should be able to debate important matters relating to future policy on the basis of full disclosure of relevant information.
“For the reasons I have given, that is simply not possible in this case without compromising (Venables’) right to be protected from serious violence.”
The Bulgers were refused permission to appeal against the ruling, but it is open to them to apply directly to the Court of Appeal.
Describing the toddler’s murder in his opening remarks, the judge said: “It was a crime that, at the time, profoundly shocked the nation and now, all these years later, will still be remembered in detail by many, and also, I suspect, will be well-known to the generation of those who were not even born at the time.
“The family of young James Bulger were and are deserving of the greatest sympathy as the indirect victims of this most horrific crime.”
The court previously heard the information includes details of Venables’s identities and former addresses up to 2017 and the prisons where he has been detained.
Anyone sharing such information under the order could face prosecution for contempt of court.
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The toddler was killed by Venables and Robert Thompson, who were both aged 10, after they snatched him from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside.
They were both granted lifelong anonymity by a High Court judge and have lived under new identities since their release from custody.
The court order was amended in relation to Venables after he was convicted of further offences in 2010 and February last year.
He was jailed for three years and four months last year after admitting surfing the dark web for extreme child abuse images and possessing a “sickening” paedophile manual.
He was charged after police found more than 1,000 indecent images on his computer.
It was the second time he had been caught with such images, and when he was arrested he told police he was plagued by “stupid urges”.
Lawyers for the Bulgers told the High Court last week that something had “gone wrong” with Venables’s rehabilitation and they, as victims, should be able to scrutinise his handling by the authorities.
They argued they are prevented from doing this because the terms of the injunction stop them from discussing details which are widely available online.
Solicitor-advocate Robin Makin, for the Bulgers, told the court: “This a very high-profile matter and indeed it is one where the current situation is unprecedented, in which we now have a child murderer who has, as an adult, committed two sets of serious sexual offences and is undoubtedly a danger to the public.”
Mr Makin said it appeared “no lessons have been learned”, adding: “The point is that (Venables) has been trained by the state to be dishonest and hide his identity, and to no doubt develop techniques for dealing with such matters.”
He said the Bulgers did not want the order to be discharged altogether, but are asking for it to be varied so some information can be revealed without the threat of prosecution.
The court heard the information includes details of Venables’s identities and former addresses up to 2017 and the prisons where he has been detained.
Mr Makin said: “In order for the applicants to exercise their rights as victims and to deal with the process going forward, there should be disclosure of information akin to what was disclosed when the offending occurred in 2010.”
The lawyer said the “reality of the situation” is that information can easily be found about Venables by searching online and he has not been “damaged” by the material so far.
However, anyone sharing such information would, under the current terms of the order, face prosecution for contempt of court.
Lawyers representing the Attorney General’s office and Venables argued there is a need to maintain the order.
James’s mother, Denise Fergus, is not involved in the proceedings and no challenge is being brought against the anonymity granted to Thompson.
At the time of a preliminary hearing in the injunction challenge last year, Mrs Fergus said in a statement: “I understand the motivation for the application, but my concern is that if Venables were known by his own name, it could lead to vigilante action and innocent people being hurt.”
Only a handful of lifelong anonymity orders have been made to date, including those granted to Venables and Thompson, and child killer Mary Bell.